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Sport in childhood. Association football, shown above, is a team sport which also provides social actions.
A sport is commonly defined as an organized, competitively and skillful physical activity requiring commitment and fair play. It is governed by a set of rules or customs. In a sport the key factors are the physical capabilities and skills of the competitor when determining the outcome (winning or losing). In contrast, games such as card games and board games, though these could be called mind sports, require only mental skills. Non-competitive activities such as jogging and rock-climbing, are usually classified as recreations.
Physical events such as scoring goals or crossing a line first often define the result of a sport. However the degree of skill in some sports such as diving, dressage and figure skating is judged according to well-defined criteria. This is in contrast with other judged activities such as beauty pageants and body-building shows, where skill does not have to be shown and the criteria are not as well defined.
Accurate records are kept and updated for most sports at the highest levels, while failures and accomplishments are widely announced in sport news. Sports are most often played just for fun or for the simple fact that people need exercise to stay in good physical condition. However professional sport is a major source of entertainment.
Although they do not always succeed, sports participants are expected to display good sportsmanship, standards of conduct such as being respectful of opponents and officials, and congratulating the winner when losing.
"Sport" comes from the old French desport meaning "leisure."
Main article: History of sport
Roman bronze reduction of Myron's Discobolos, 2nd century AD.
There are artifacts and structures that suggest that the Chinese engaged in sporting activities as early as 4000 BC. Gymnastics appears to have been a popular sport in China's ancient past. Monuments to the Pharaohs indicate that a number of sports, including swimming and fishing, were well-developed and regulated several thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt. Other Egyptian sports included javelin throwing, high jump, and wrestling. Ancient Persian sports such as the traditional Iranian martial art of Zourkhaneh had a close connection to the warfare skills. Among other sports that originate in Persia are polo and jousting.
A wide range of sports were already established by the time of Ancient Greece and the military culture and the development of sports in Greece influenced one another considerably. Sports became such a prominent part of their culture that the Greeks created the Olympic Games, which in ancient times were held every four years in a small village in the Peloponnesus called Olympia.
Sports have been increasingly organized and regulated from the time of the Ancient Olympics up to the present century. Industrialization has brought increased leisure time to the citizens of developed and developing countries, leading to more time for citizens to attend and follow spectator sports, greater participation in athletic activities, and increased accessibility. These trends continued with the advent of mass media and global communication. Professionalism became prevalent, further adding to the increase in sport's popularity, as sports fans began following the exploits of professional athletes through radio, television, and the internet—all while enjoying the exercise and competition associated with amateur participation in sports.
In the new millennium, new sports have been going further from the physical aspect to the mental or psychological aspect of competing. Electronic sports organizations are becoming more and more popular.
Activities where the outcome is determined by judgement over execution are considered performances, or competition.
Main article: Sportsmanship
See also: Gamesmanship and Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing
Sportsmanship is an attitude that strives for fair play, courtesy toward teammates and opponents, ethical behaviour and integrity, and grace in victory or defeat.
Sportsmanship expresses an aspiration or ethos that the activity will be enjoyed for its own sake. The well-known sentiment by sports journalist Grantland Rice, that it's "not that you won or lost but how you played the game," and the Modern Olympic creed expressed by its founder Pierre de Coubertin: "The most important thing . . . is not winning but taking part" are typical expressions of this sentiment.
Violence in sports involves crossing the line between fair competition and intentional aggressive violence. Athletes, coaches, fans, and parents sometimes unleash violent behaviour on people or property, in misguided shows of loyalty, dominance, anger, or celebration. Rioting or hooliganism are common and ongoing problems at national and international sporting contests.
Modern sports have complex rules and are highly organized.
Main article: Professional sport
The entertainment aspect of sports, together with the spread of mass media and increased leisure time, has led to professionalism in sports. This has resulted in some conflict, where the paycheck can be seen as more important than recreational aspects, or where the sports are changed simply to make them more profitable and popular, thereby losing certain valued traditions.
The entertainment aspect also means that sportsmen and women are often elevated to celebrity status.
At times, sports and politics can have a large amount of influence on each other.
When apartheid was the official policy in South Africa, many sports people, particularly in rugby union, adopted the conscientious approach that they should not appear in competitive sports there. Some feel this was an effective contribution to the eventual demolition of the policy of apartheid, others feel that it may have prolonged and reinforced its worst effects.
The 1936 Summer Olympics held in Berlin was an illustration, perhaps best recognised in retrospect, where an ideology was developing which used the event to strengthen its spread through propaganda.
In modern sport motorization has appeared.
In the history of Ireland, Gaelic sports were connected with cultural nationalism. Until the mid 20th century a person could have been banned from playing Gaelic football, hurling, or other sports administered by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) if she/he played or supported soccer, or other games seen to be of British origin. Until recently the GAA continued to ban the playing of soccer and rugby union at Gaelic venues. This ban is still enforced, but has been modified to allow football and rugby be played in Croke Park while Lansdowne Road is being redeveloped. Until recently, under Rule 21, the GAA also banned members of the British security forces and members of the RUC from playing Gaelic games, but the advent of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 led to the eventual removal of the ban.
Nationalism is often evident in the pursuit of sports, or in its reporting: people compete in national teams, or commentators and audiences can adopt a partisan view. On occasion, such tensions can lead to violent confrontation among players or spectators within and beyond the sporting venue (see Football War). These trends are seen by many as contrary to the fundamental ethos of sports being carried on for its own sake and for the enjoyment of its participants.